"Fire that!" Chattanooga coach John Shulman shouted every time the basketball went in to Citadel center Demetrius Nelson.
With the Mocs double-teaming Nelson at every turn, open 3-pointers were available for The Citadel's shooters on Monday night. The Bulldogs made 13 out of 33 attempts, season-best numbers in both categories.
Yet somehow, it wasn't enough. Desperate for a victory, the Mocs held The Citadel scoreless for a six-minute stretch of the second half and rode Stephen McDowell's 27 points to a 76-70 victory before 1,326 fans at McAlister Field House.
"We needed that one in the worst way," said Shulman, whose 6-10 Mocs were picked to win the Southern Conference North Division, but stand just 2-3 in league play.
The loss spoiled a career-best 24-point effort by Citadel guard Zach Urbanus, and left the Bulldogs at 7-9 overall and 2-3 in the Southern Conference after a 2-2 homestand.
"A well-played, high-level game," said Citadel coach Ed Conroy. "There were a lot of bounces, a lot of plays that could have gone either way, with two teams that were competing really hard.
"Our guys fought really hard and a couple of bounces didn't go their way. But I'm really encouraged with their competitive spirit and how confident they are right now."
Urbanus hit 6 of 12 from 3-point range, and Nelson fought his way through the double-teams for 15 points and a career-best 14 rebounds, the seventh double-double of his career. Cameron Wells added 11 points and five rebounds.
"We knocked down a bunch of shots and played as hard as we could," Urbanus said. "Things just didn't go our way."
The Bulldogs had 18 assists against 12 turnovers, and even blocked six shots. But The Citadel could not keep the tall and athletic Mocs off the boards, nor stop them from scoring inside. Chattanooga grabbed
14 offensive rebounds and had an 18-9 edge in second-chance points.
And Shulman went right at the Bulldogs' most unsettled spot in the lineup, the forward position alongside Nelson. The Mocs' 6-5 forward Kevin Goffney scored eight of his 14 points in the second half, and 6-7 senior Nicchaeus Doaks had 11 points, eight in the second half.
Meanwhile, Citadel forwards John Brown, Tyrell McDowell and Bryan Streeter collected three points and 11 fouls among them. Conroy was forced to play Nelson and Streeter, a 6-6 sophomore, together for much of the second half, something the coach normally does not do.
"Our defense is much improved," Conroy said. "We knew how big and strong and athletic they are. But we missed some assignments, put them on the line too much and gave then too many second chances."
The Bulldogs were up by 46-38 after an Urbanus trey with 16:51 left in the game. But that was The Citadel's last bucket for five minutes and 40 seconds, and the Mocs reeled off nine straight points for a 47-46 lead.
The run reached 18-5 and the Mocs' lead 56-51 as The Citadel went 2 of 8 with three turnovers over an eight-minute stretch.
"We went cold a little bit," Urbanus said. "We were getting our looks, it just came down to whether we hit them or not."
Down by eight with 3:34 left, the Bulldogs cut it to 71-68 on a 3-pointer by Austin Dahn, who suffered through a 2-of-11 shooting night. Urbanus missed a trey and Wells grabbed the rebound, but without a timeout left, the best shot the Bulldogs could get was a half-hook by Dahn along the baseline as the shot clock ran down. It missed, and Chattanooga made 5 of 6 free throws in the final 34 seconds to seal it.
"We had a little bit of an odd lineup in there," Conroy said. "But it wasn't a bad shot. It just didn't go in."
After a 2-2 homestand, the Bulldogs are on the road later this week at Furman and Wofford.
"I like where our guys are right now," Conroy said. "They are competing and playing with confidence, expecting to win. I think our level of play was pretty high on this homestand, and that's encouraging."
Reach Jeff Hartsell at email@example.com
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